I was thinking back across my life history the other day (as you do) and was a bit surprised to realize how deep my connection with politics goes.
When I was 10? 11? I wrote Jimmy Carter a stinging letter scolding him for, in my view, not doing enough to realize a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. My mom still has it somewhere, she likes to laugh about it.
But I also accompanied my parents to anti-nuke rallies in the early 80’s, when I was 14 or so. At about the same time, I decided I needed to know what was going on in the world, so I more or less taught myself to read the evening paper. (I skipped business mostly and sports always.) If I remember correctly, it wasn’t long before I was trying to dope out Newsweek and Ms. as well.
From there, it just flowed. I got kicked out of high school for a day because of some dumb protest I took part in. It did at least result in one math teacher wishing aloud that he could be like John Wayne with anti-war protesters, so we did raise some consciousness. Despite that, two of the history teachers sprang for a plane ticket so I could participate in a week-long study trip to D.C., even sought me out to tell me I should apply for the scholarship.
I don’t know why I didn’t take a degree in poli sci and journalism. Probably it was some combination of a deficit in maturity, preparation and self-confidence. Besides, I was set on a career in literature. Look at how well that worked out. But I marched against the first Iraq War and police brutality, and served as the campaign manager for two buddies running for student government. The highlight of the campaign was the student newspaper terming us “a joke party, but a pretty funny one.”
It’s honestly a mystery why I never made a living related to politics. Maybe the right situation never presented itself? Sometimes you fall into these things by accident, and if there’s no rabbit hole, it doesn’t happen. Yet despite all the curves in life, activism and awareness have never been far away. Even in the worst times of my life, I’ve always known what’s up, and I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinions. That hasn’t always worked in my favor. I was an advocate for marriage equality way before my congregation was ready for it.
Things took on a new urgency under Bush II. I was horrified by the invasion of Iraq and how it came about, and scandalized by church people declaring Bush the “instrument of God’s will.” That led to writing for the newspaper which led to blogging which led me to where we are now.
Through all of this experience, all the ups and downs and apocalyptic moments of American politics in the past 40 years, I’ve never been scared like I was the night the latest president got elected. I had to go in another room and weep so our son wouldn’t see the fear and distress. I’ve never thought a president might actually dissolve American democracy, and I’m old enough to remember Ronald Reagan, for God’s sake.
For longer than I want to admit, what kept me going through the rough patches was the progressive’s sense that world was inevitably getting better, that conservatives could drag their feet, but ultimately our side would win. That idea died hard when Scott Walker won his recall election after cheating his way into office and then promptly screwing his state employees. It died even harder come early November 2016. What the hell is wrong with people? Why are humans so perverse sometimes? I don’t know.
These days, I’m trying not to get ahead of myself laughing at the ineptness of the new regime. Their days seem numbered, but that’s what I thought about Walker, too. Bannon’s crew could always pull things together and finally start the authoritarian regime they’ve been lusting after.
Frankly, my biggest source of hope at the moment is the knowledge that people like me—straight white men—are steadily losing their grip on American society, and thank God for that. We’ve stunk up the joint for long enough. There’s a new and pretty effective civil rights movement, a flood of women planning on running for office, and there are young people stronger than they ever should have to be yet doing a superb job all the same.
I look at a kid like this, and all I can think is “we’re going to be in good hands.” One of these days, she or Jaqueline Rayos García or someone like them will run for president and win, and we will all be better for it. Maybe I’ll never make a living in politics, but I’ll stick with the activism and the sharing of opinions. In the end, it’s probably for the best, anyway. Everybody else plays politics to accumulate power. My goal is to give it away, ever as fast as I can.+ + +